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Shine up call centers—to help your bank shine

Rethink how longstanding channel can help in mobile age

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  • Written by  B. Scott Fisher, Treliant
Shine up call centers—to help your bank shine

Mobile banking is changing customer behavior. Fintechs are luring away customers. Teller transactions at bank branches are declining by 8% per year.

Banks have to hit the right notes with customers today, to attract them and keep them engaged amid these and other elements of the growing din in the financial services market. Banks’ call centers can help differentiate them from digital-native fintechs, as part of a branding strategy aimed at delighting customers.

To gain advantage, 2018 is the year your bank should lift its voice—that is, take your call center operations to a new level.

If this sounds low-tech, it isn’t. It’s a high-touch approach that leverages just the right amount of technology for effective communications and risk management. It makes more sense than seizing on every omnichannel customer contact option in a high-risk and potentially low-return strategy.

Moving call centers beyond cost centers

Many call center operations today are stuck in time. Bank executives often see them only as cost centers or worse—as risky business at a time of heightened regulatory oversight of consumer protection and data privacy.

Yet keep in mind that many consumers expect better information from their bank. How well does your bank meet those expectations? As importantly, can you do so while keeping costs under control?

Develop a call center strategy with an eye to making the most efficient use of your live call center agents—be they on staff or working for your call center vendor. Use time-tested as well as new techniques while setting goals, organizing skills, and leveraging technology.

Balance people and technology

Technology solutions allow you to operate efficient, effective call centers. A typical solution recognizes the account numbers entered by callers and immediately displays your relationship with them on the call center agent’s screen. Another offers callback options within a specified time frame to customers who have been on hold. Contact options are proliferating across phone, web, and mobile platforms.

Be measured in introducing new applications, though. For example, live chat is certainly a way to cater to customers who prefer not to have a conversation. And yes, it may seem like efficiency to have an agent carry on three or four simultaneous chat conversations. But chat can also raise significant compliance challenges.

Apart from standard responses, chat raises the risk that a call center agent engaged in rapid interaction with a customer might overpromise or cross federal limits on Unfair, Deceptive, or Abusive Acts or Practices (UDAAP).

Remember: One screen shot later, you are exposed with a response you’d rather not have in the public domain.

Take care in assigning staff, too. An entry-level agent might do fine addressing balance inquiries and other repetitive work. But even resetting online passwords can be riskier, requiring a more skilled agent.

Chat would actually require some of the highest-level call center agents, because they need to think carefully about what they’re putting in writing.

Be sure to differentiate and risk-assess the types of engagements you handle in your call center from basic to complex. Assign accordingly.

Goal-setting and measurement

Measure your call center agents based on what you hope to occur.

If you want a call center agent to be as fast as possible and keep phone calls to less than 50 seconds, script for a lot of simple “yes or no” resolutions followed by a prompt goodbye.

On the other hand, if you want to engage with a customer and deepen the relationship, expect a seven- or eight-minute call.

Be clear about the key performance indicators you review on a monthly basis with your call center agents. It can make a difference for your bank and, if you incentivize your call center agents, it will matter to them, as well.

Solidify relations

Leverage your call center in outreach efforts to solidify customer relations. Don’t overlook the fact that you have a valuable utility in place—a group of employees ready and waiting to use the phone. Given that bank call centers have peak weeks of the month and peak days of the week, put some of the slack time to use for outreach.

Specifically, the first and third weeks of the month are peaks for call volume, and Mondays and Fridays are peak days of the week. Some of the sunk costs in your call center can be recouped in customer-loyalty building.

For example, make welcome calls for new accounts. Place occasional calls to show appreciation: “It’s your 20th anniversary with our bank; here’s a gift card.”

Give a call when you see a significant drop in balance: “Is everything OK with our service?”

Call center outreach can help avoid unwanted attrition.

Manage complaints

Create a group inside your call center to handle complaints. Develop a repository of complaints, analyze trends, and monitor your evolution. Regulators look very closely at complaints and their management.

Because people with complaints phone into call centers, they can inform risk management—and even product development.

Educate customers

For routine transactions, though, you do want customers to use your easiest tech solutions. To manage costs, you should preserve phone conversations for more complicated inquiries or for advice. So educate your customers along these lines.

Say, for example, that someone comes into a branch to open a checking account. In addition to perfecting that transaction and opening the account, the teller should take a moment to set the stage.

Here, a script might say, “In the future, you’re going to have needs and we’re happy to have you come back to the branch. But did you know you can do the same thing on our mobile app? Or, you can reach our call center 24/7.”

Let customers know that between tellers, agents, and automated responses, your bank can handle their needs as—and when—they prefer.

One more thing: M&A

Bank mergers and acquisitions are heating up again, which is also adding pressure on call centers. There are integration considerations, such as whose call centers are retained and how many call center agents are needed, going forward.

What’s more, M&A adds call center demand—from 90 to 120 days prior to integration and for about 90 days after. Customers have a host of understandable questions, about whether they should continue using the same checks, for example, or whether their direct deposits will show up.

Be prepared to communicate with them in a way that helps realize the anticipated synergies of your merger.

Bottom line

So, press one if you’re ready to think about your call center operations in a whole new light in the coming year.

To end with a cautionary note: Consider that one of the world’s biggest (albeit branchless) banks is now reported to be pursuing personal loans by the billions each year, in part by answering more than 95% of its calls within a 30-second window.

There is so much happening so fast in the financial services market. It’s time for your bank to lift its voice to compete in 2018.

About the author

Scott Fisher is Managing Director of Treliant, a Washington, D.C.-based consultancy serving the financial services industry. He is a senior financial services executive with a 32-year career in banking, including responsibility for mortgage, retail banking, consumer credit, product management, investments, private banking, commercial banking, network planning, e-commerce, call centers, and operations. [email protected].

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